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Reviewed by:
  • Someone to Teach Them: York and the Great University Explosion 1960-1973
  • Michael L. Skolnik (bio)
John T. Saywell . Someone to Teach Them: York and the Great University Explosion 1960-1973. University of Toronto Press. ix, 296. $45.00

Historian John Saywell was dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science at York University from 1963 to 1973. Because of the dominant role of that faculty at the time, Saywell was centrally involved in all major issues [End Page 597] and developments during the university's formative years. This book is a memoir of Dean Saywell's experiences, interactions, and observations.

The author's recollections of events and conversations four decades ago are effectively supported by extensive quotations from many documents, including communications from, to, and about the dean. The memoir is presented in an engaging style with great precision and in (sometimes too) great detail. The fourteen chapters seem to cover all significant aspects of the early development of both the Faculty of Arts and Science and the university, except that the development of the physical plant gets less attention than is the case in many institutional histories. Clearly Saywell is more interested in people than in things. The depth and insights in his description and analysis of his relationships with the founding president, senior administrators, key board members, influential members of senate, and quarrelsome professors is one of the strengths of the book.

As is common in institutional histories, some parts of the book will likely be of interest only to people with a connection to York University. This includes homages to the contributions of numerous administrators, faculty, and staff, and the flattering and often candidly unflattering descriptions of their personalities, behaviour, and eccentricities. It includes also some of the 'war stories' of bygone times, such as the minute detail in which every formal and informal meeting of anyone connected with the selection of the second president of the university is chronicled. On the other hand, several parts of the book are both fascinating to the outsider and of broader importance to understanding the history of higher education in Canada. Foremost of these is the outstanding chapter dealing with the concern that erupted in the late 1960s about the numbers of American-born faculty in Canadian universities. York was a hotbed for this controversy, and drawing upon his own experience and primary documents, and relating actions at York to the wider Canadian scene, Saywell adds something valuable to the record on this subject, and similarly on the student movement in the period that he covers.

The issue in York University's early development that interested me most, and on which Saywell is uniquely qualified to comment, is that related to institutional differentiation. Given the rapid growth in the demand for places in university in the Toronto area in the 1960s, the goal for York could simply have been to replicate in order to make available to more students what the University of Toronto and the other existing universities were providing. But this wasn't York's original vision. Rather it was to create a different type of university, particularly in regard to the undergraduate experience, with greater emphasis on and a different ideal of general education. York's different vision was reflected also in its creative but unfortunately unaccepted proposal to train teachers in the Faculty of Arts and Science rather than establishing a Faculty of [End Page 598] Education, an attempt that Saywell - as the chief architect of that proposal - does a wonderful job of explaining. However, except perhaps for making more of inter-disciplinarity than many universities have, Saywell acknowledges that York soon adopted the same research university model as the older universities, with all that such entails.

In the penultimate paragraph of the book, Saywell admits that he fought against any suggestion that York not get into serious science or develop graduate programs, while at the same time he now asserts that high-quality mass higher education probably is not possible without institutional differentiation in level and substance. I would like to have seen Saywell connect the penultimate paragraph with the early chapters of the book and instead of just a scattered few...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 597-599
Launched on MUSE
2010-08-07
Open Access
No
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